Staircase Wit



My high school graduating class voted me Wittiest. It’s hardly something I boast about. Best Looking? Most Likely to Succeed? Nope. I got Wittiest. Does any other school even have such an award? In my school, it went to the guy who made people laugh but wasn’t obnoxious enough to qualify as Class Clown (That distinction went to John Gerrold, who, at one reunion, emerged from the restroom onto the dance floor with twelve feet of toilet paper trailing from his pants. Get the idea?) I tended to be funny without getting in trouble for it.

But I don’t see myself as particularly witty (My teenagers wholeheartedly agree). I’m not quick enough on the draw. More often than not, I come up with the perfect retort only after the opportunity has passed. Do you know the feeling? The light bulb comes on and you think, “That‘s what I should have said!”

Apparently I’m not the only one who experiences this. I stumbled upon this graphic on someone’s Tumblr the other day:

Esprit de l’escalier can be literally translated “staircase wit.” It’s a French idiom that has no parallel in English. But it should. It summons the vision of someone leaving the house at the end of the evening — descending the stairs — when the perfect witty remark belatedly dawns upon him.

But since there’s no English word for it, we can just borrow the French, oui?


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Frederic Durbin
    Frederic Durbin02-15-2012

    Hi, Brian! Yes, other schools have that award! Get this: in my class, I was “awarded” three such distinctions by my classmates:
    1. most intelligent
    2. shyest
    3. wittiest
    It always puzzled me how a person could be both “shy” and “witty” — but I guess it’s what you said: funny, but not in a class-clown way. I think if you mixed up my three awards in a bowl, the substance you’d get would be “nerdiest.”

    I really enjoyed this post, by the way! Your blog continues to be awesome!

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko02-15-2012

      Thanks, Fred. I guess they gave that award back in our day at least. But lest anyone assume we are completely kindred spirits, my other award was Most School Spirited. Shy I was not. ­čÖé

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